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Toddler Tips

Sibling Care During Birth

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 15 No. 5, September-October 1998, pp. 151-53

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


Our 18-month-old daughter sleeps in our bed and still nurses a couple of times each night. I am six months pregnant and I am concerned about how she will handle the separation at night during the birth and recovery. I have never been away from her at night before. Homebirth is not an option for us. How have others handled nighttime separations from their toddlers during the birth of a sibling?


Recently, our family successfully navigated a similar situation. Our daughter is two and a half and also has never spent the night apart from us nor spent much time with other caregivers. The separation that would happen during labor and delivery was my biggest worry throughout our pregnancy. To ease my fears we devised a plan. We wanted her to stay with us as long as possible during labor. When it was time to go she would go with my husband's parents. We built up the event of going to Grandma and Grandpa's, talking about how much fun it would be and what to expect while she was there. We told her that when the baby was born Grandma and Grandpa would bring her to the hospital. We repeatedly told her the plan as we got closer to the due date and as labor began. She appeared to be fully aware of what was happening.

Once we had the plan laid out we also prepared our daughter for the birth in other ways. We “practiced” having her stay with other caregivers, especially the ones she would be with during labor. This started out rough, but she adjusted fairly quickly. It also gave us some personal time, which was a great bonus. We included her in as many aspects of the pregnancy as we could; prenatal visits, stories about birth, lots of pictures of pregnant mommies laboring and birthing, and talking to the baby.

The big test came on March 22, 1999. She was excited to go with her grandparents, not at all sad or worried. We sent many favorite toys and books and even a couple of movies. I had a harder time with her leaving than she did. She was reunited with us about 14 hours later. Her grandparents said she did well, went to sleep late, slept with Grandma, and woke up early, eager to meet her new brother and see mom and dad again. I was extremely relieved and surprised it had gone so well for her. We all stayed at the hospital one more night and went home the next day. Now we're working with tandem nursing challenges! Good luck!

Samantha M.


We have had to handle the separation at night during birth and recovery twice. When my son was born, my daughter was 23 months old and nursing at night. I knew that she would not tolerate being separated from me during my hospital stay. We decided to bring her along. Some hospitals with family birthing facilities allow siblings to room in. One of the nurses brought a cot for her to sleep on in the labor and delivery room. In the postpartum room, she slept in the bed with me.

For our family, a determining factor in selecting a hospital was the sibling visitation and rooming-in policies. With my third, I did have to contact several hospitals. I found that speaking with the head of labor and delivery is the only way to get an accurate answer on whether the hospital has sibling visitation or sibling rooming-in policies. After I delivered my third, my husband and I decided it would be easier for him to take our other two children (ages two and four) home for the night. If need be he could return during the night, since the hospital had unrestricted visiting hours for siblings. The children had a little difficulty separating, but fell asleep in the car on the way home. When my son woke up looking for me, my husband rubbed his back and held him until he fell asleep. They came back to the hospital in the morning. The second night of my stay, they separated easily. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised that my toddler made it through those nights without “mama” milk.

If you are able to deliver at a hospital that is open to unrestricted visitation and/or sibling rooming-in, then you will have the option of deciding at the time what will work for your family.

Junelle H.


My son was still nursing and sleeping next to me when I was pregnant with our daughter.More than giving birth, I worried about leaving my toddler at home to go to the hospital.

At first my husband and I planned to bring our son with us to the hospital's birthing center which had a playroom for siblings, a big queen-size bed, and a non-threatening, home-like atmosphere. I lined up three friends I could call on when labor started to take care of our son. I felt so relieved to know we could have him with us at the hospital. Unfortunately, we had to change our plan. Two weeks overdue, I was admitted to the regular maternity ward to be induced (all the natural labor stimulants we tried had failed). No longer a low-risk delivery, I was not allowed to birth in the cozy, low-tech birthing center. My son could not be with me after all. I was heartbroken and felt terribly anxious.

Fortunately, my husband's parents, who lived nearby, were able to come to our house the afternoon I was to be induced. I went to the hospital alone initially to complete routine paperwork and testing prior to being induced. My husband used that time to get his parents settled in and to explain to our son how he would see Mommy the next day at the hospital and that Grandma and Grandpa would sleep next to him that night.

That evening, Grandma and Grandpa played hard with their grandson. Come bedtime, he was so worn out, he went right to sleep. When he awoke in the middle of the night, asking for Mommy, Grandma was right at his side and quickly soothed his fears.

After our nearly 10-pound daughter was born, my husband stayed with me. I held our daughter in my arms all night, nursing. When my husband went back to our apartment in the morning to check on our son, my daughter and I spent more precious time alone together, bonding. What a different, special soul she was! How lucky I was, after all, to have that time completely alone with her. When my husband brought our toddler to the hospital, our son immediately crawled up on the bed, beaming and asked for “nukies.” He latched onto one side, his sister the other. In marched a nurse, who quickly did a double take.

“Two babies!” she exclaimed. “That's what we used to do in my country,” she added with a smile.

Our son nursed briefly, then, completely satisfied, hopped down and pulled Daddy's arm out the door for a walk down the hall. Relief. Our son was fine after all, as your young daughter will be as well. Though still babies themselves, most toddlers won't be upset for long by a night or two away from their mothers' arms. The love and information that we offer them before and after the birth of a sibling help them to feel secure.

Martha S.


My son, Nicholas, was 20 months old and nursing when my second son was born. I, too, was concerned about being separated. Prior to the birth we began getting Nicholas used to going to bed with Daddy. He would nurse on the couch then Daddy would take him to bed. Also, I did go out to LLL meetings without my son. On these occasions, Daddy was there to help with bedtime. I was away from Nicholas for two nights when Timothy was born. Nicholas visited us in the hospital and spent the nights at home with Daddy. All went well.

Carol Y.


I became pregnant with our second child when our daughter was 15 months old. Elizabeth was still nursing at night and was very uneasy about separating from me, even during the day. Fears about a long labor, not being with her at bedtime, and who to leave her with plagued me.

I called on the support of friends. They spent time with us as a family and some time alone with Elizabeth during the pregnancy. As my due date approached, these friends were "on call" as caregivers for Elizabeth. My mother and sister also planned to fly out for a visit near the due date.

In addition, we talked to our midwife and the hospital about our concerns. We planned to labor at home as long as possible. We decided to have the baby in a hospital with liberal visitation policies. Elizabeth could be with us soon after the baby was born, and she could spend the night with us. We also planned an early discharge. Our midwife further assured us that, in a pinch, we could bring Elizabeth to the hospital during the labor, and we'd just work it out.

As it turned out, luck was with us. Elizabeth spontaneously weaned from night nursing at 20 months, when I was in my fifth month of pregnancy and my milk supply had decreased. My labor began during the night and Elizabeth slept through until morning. We didn't leave for the hospital until about 10:00 AM and Jon Michael was born at 11:30. I had not expected how much I would be able to rely on Elizabeth's strength. When she got up the morning I was in labor. She wanted to nurse as usual. I couldn't nurse as labor was quite intense by then. Even though Elizabeth could not yet talk, she communicated clearly that she understood Mommy was doing something very important. She did not cry or cling. I felt so proud of her. When she joined us later at the hospital to meet her new brother, it was wonderful to pick her up and nurse her, to be united as a family.

With a little planning and a little luck, we turned what felt like a very big problem into an important part of a good birth experience. I wish the same for your family.

Chris S.


My first son was 14 months old when we found out that we were pregnant with our second child. He was sleeping with me at night and waking once or twice during the night to nurse. By the time I was eight months pregnant he was sleeping through the night or if he did wake he settled for a drink of water and a cuddle from Mom. Also at this time we took him to the hospital to see where Mommy was going to stay. We had a babysitter lined up available at a moment's notice and also available to spend the night if needed.

I went into labor early in the evening and my husband was able to stay home from work. At the hospital, we met up with a friend who could take care of our toddler for a few minutes until the babysitter got there. Our second son was born within the hour. After big brother got to see his little brother and get a hug from dad, out toddler went back to our home with the babysitter who slept in our bed with him that first night. I was exhausted from the birth and still waiting to see if I needed extra surgery, so we did not let our toddler see me at that time.

The next two days, Daddy brought big brother to the hospital along with a bag of toys to see Mommy and the baby. At night Daddy was available to sleep with him in our bed. Though he woke up a few times he seemed to understand that Mommy was not available to nurse and he was satisfied with a drink of water and a cuddle.

Once I got home our toddler increased his nursing dramatically for a short while and I found that I couldn't sit in “our” chair to nurse the baby. It took time and patience but now I can nurse the baby whenever and wherever needed. Our toddler is back to nursing only three or four times a day, and both boys sleep with me at night. Since my husband works at night, having room in the bed isn't a problem.

Katie W.


I think the anticipated separation from our daughter was my biggest worry during my second pregnancy. She was 20 months when our son was born. One thing that helped was hiring a doula, a trained labor assistant. Even though we had arranged for her grandmother to be with her during my labor, our daughter was very upset, probably sensing my discomfort. Having a doula to tend to me freed up my husband to reassure our daughter. Though my husband wasn't with me every minute of the first part of my labor, I wasn't stressed about how our daughter was doing.

In recovery, my husband brought our daughter in to nurse and meet her little brother. They stayed with us until late and she fell asleep on the ride home. It was a rough night as she woke several times wanting to nurse and crying for me. Our previous attempts to wean from night nursing had been unsuccessful. When they returned in the morning she nursed and seemed to be okay. I was discharged that day so we only spent one night apart.

I took advantage of my newborn's naps to cuddle and nurse my toddler. I think that the brief separation has quickly become a distant memory.

Kristen B.

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